Over the internet the news came that Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s long-time guitarist, had died at the age of 84. Rock’n’Rollers are living a lot longer than they used to.
This news reminded me of an incident that occurred a year or two ago. My wife and I were at a memorial service. A friend of ours was to sing at it and she performed a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace.
Afterwards, we moved over to a nearby restaurant and a private room where there was a little buffet of hors d’oeuvres as well as a bar. With our little plates and glasses filled we found a table where we seated ourselves and made our introductions to the folks seated there as they made theirs to us.
One of the women seated there was an older woman who was from the South. There was no mistaking that once she began to speak. She was originally from Mississippi. She was very charming and, of course, genteel.
Scotty & Elvis…
The table conversation drifted about from topic to topic as conversations are prone to do when it somehow alit upon the subject of Elvis Presley. My seven year old granddaughter recently admonished me for saying his name in that manner.
“You know,” she said, “you don’t really have to say his last name.”
I’ve already done it twice in this missive. I’ll try to refrain from doing so in the future, with apologies to Mr. Costello.
Back at the table, the woman from Mississippi casually dropped the bombshell that she and Elvis went to high school together. Not only that but he used to hang around in her back yard. He was friends with her sister.
Of course, we peppered her with questions i.e. what was he like, did you hang out, etc.
She replied “I didn’t really pay him much attention because I was a few years older. I was friends with his bass player, Bill Black.”
Bill Black was the bassist in Elvis’ early trio band and is considered one of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll music. He did die young at the age of 41 in 1965.
So, the original trio of Elvis, Scotty and Bill are now all gone. I sincerely hope that genteel lady is doing well.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was EB Jeebies…
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I make it a point to periodically clean up my studio. I do it every ten years, whether it needs it or not.
This is one of the on-decades so with latex gloves pulled on tightly I plunged elbow-deep into the corners and back burners of my studio which consists of various assorted stacks, piles and towers of important minutiae. The perimeter is where the unknown, forgotten and WTF-is-this-stuff? can be found.
I discovered, stashed behind a dusty and unplugged fax machine, a lidless shoebox. Among the items inside was a pair of black-framed glasses with thick lenses that purported to replicate a fly’s eye view, a pair of fuzzy dice, an old long-handled looking glass, a well-worn snow scraper, a Bunny Berrigan cassette tape, several Wash’n’Dri packets, some pencils, a bunch of pennies and one of those pinback buttons from the Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation. It was designed to look like a film reel (anyone remember film?) and EBE was writ in big red letters across the center.
I kept the button, put the rest of the items back in the box and returned it to its place behind the fax machine.
I had forgotten that I worked at EBE for a while in the 1980s. I was part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica animation department which was part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica film department. It was located downtown in the Mandel Building.
They had a nice system there for free lance animators.
One could work there in a faux full time position and if an opportunity arose to work on a project with one of the studios in town, one could leave EB and when the free lance project ended, return as if nothing had happened and continue work on whatever long term project was currently being undertaken.
It was a fall back type of position and the pay was very close to the ground, so to speak, as in dirt cheap. But it was a regular paycheck, no matter the diminutiveness of its size. It covered dry spells and the work exposed one to a variety of animation techniques.
At The Third City, Andy Sipowicz would be considered well dressed…
For instance, the first project I was put to work on was cut-out animation. The subject matter was Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist who was the first to frame principles for defining natural genera and species for organisms.
To this day, whenever I visit the Chicago Botanic Gardens I make it a point to point out the giant sculpture of Mr. Linnaeus and attempt to tell my story of animating him.I always seem to only get as far as pointing him out before I have to hustle and catch up with my quickly departing companions.
The setting for the animation department at EB was anything but glamorous. In fact, it consisted of a lone hallway.
One would exit the elevator, walk along the carpeted floor past desks of secretaries and other office workers and turn down a dimly lit hallway that led to four crowded rooms. One of the rooms was the office of Alex Davidovich, the glum Russian, who headed the department.
Alex was tall and slim and always clad in a short-sleeved white shirt with a gray clip-on tie. Always. Next to him, Andy Sipowicz from “NYPD Blue” was a regular Beau Brummel. His office was the color of yellow smoke as he was never without a burning cigarette in hand or mouth. He loved dinosaurs. He had a personal project of a dinosaur film that he had been working on for years. I liked him.
In another room situated at the far end of the hallway was Alex’s second-in-command, Will Malmudson. His room was always very dark except for a spot of light that emanated from his desk gooseneck. With his blonde hair and pale white skin, he emitted a vampiric aura whenever he would emerge from his coffin…er…office. He was an expert model-maker and loved Japanese animation. He had a very sardonic and dark sense of humor. I liked him too.
The third room housed the camera where one would shoot tests as well as final shoots of the projects. Frame by frame. On film. No digital do-overs in those days. If you made a mistake, you had to re-shoot the entire thing. That was why most animation cameramen were cranky sorts.
The fourth room was where the free-lance animators were housed. Three animation desks were crammed in along with various storage items and materials. I liked all the different people I worked with in that room too. In fact, working there was mostly a pleasurable experience.
I wonder why I had forgotten all about it?
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Phoney Phable…
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A rhino can charge. An accuser can charge. Any imbecile with a credit card can charge. But my cell phone wouldn’t charge.
I had noticed that those four little lines that symbolize a fully charged phone had dropped to two. That was nothing to worry about for most folks but I’m the kind of guy who pulls into a service station when his gas gauge needle dips below half a tank so I plugged it in to re-charge.
Usually, this procedure doesn’t take very long, an hour at most. From time to time I would check on its development only to find that it was still in charging mode. It continued to be in charging mode the following morning as well.
I unplugged it and saw that the charging lines had dropped from two to one. Plus next to it was a symbol that I had never noticed before. It was an open-ended triangle on its side abutting two smaller triangles that sat atop one another. What could this possibly mean?
Was this symbolic image the equivalent of the stereotypical image of the bearded, sack-clothed man in sandals carrying a sign that read “The End is Near”? Was my cell phone dying? Panic set in. I began running around like the proverbial recently decapitated chicken complete with hands making spasmodic circles in the air.
Remembering my Lamaze training from back when my wife was pregnant, I performed some breathing exercises. These calmed me down but they also made me hunger for a big dish of pickles and ice cream. Fortunately, I was able to erase that subconsciously distracting desire when I remembered that I didn’t like pickles and I was lactose-intolerant.
I recalled the times when my previous cell phone ceased working. I would open the back of it, remove the battery, count to three red apples and replace it. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it would reanimate. “It’s alive! It’s alive!” I would emote in my best Colin Clive impersonation. So, with my jaw firmly set, I began to remove the back of this ailing piece of plastic-encased electronica.
I did the deed but still, it remained as lifeless as the presidential future of Jeb Bush. In fact, its energy bars were completely gone and it flashed a message at me as if it were a tiny rough-riding Teddy Roosevelt, “Charge Now!”
I was bereft of optimism, bereft of cheer, bereft of, well, just plain old bereft. The only option left for me was to get a new phone and that could very possibly mean getting one of those s-s-smart ph-ph-phones. Oh, did I mention that my cell phone was of the flip-phone variety? An item considered to be a Model-T by the Cell Phone Generation, that is, if the CPG even knew what a Model-T was.
Just the thought of owning one of those thin transistor-radio-sized mini-behemoths (I know, I know, that’s an oxymoronic phrase) gave me the heebie-jeebies. Like the surrounding hoi polloi I would have to carry this prominent communication device in my hand as it would be too large to fit into my pocket unless I took to wearing…gasp… cargo pants. Another shiver rode a luge down each bumpy vertebrae of my spine.
Ever-resistant to change, I bemoaned my fate a bit more, wallowing in self pity and relishing every moment of it. Despite the adage of “doing the same thing over and over being a sign of insanity” I decided to plug in my hospice-headed flip phone one more time, you know, just in case. Perhaps it would awaken from its cellular coma.
I reached into the basket that held the charging cords for our various electronic devices, the iPad, the Kindle, my wife’s phone and my phone. I pulled them all out. The white ones were for the iPad and my wife’s phone and the black one was for my phone but, what ho! There were two black cords!
That was when I remembered that the Kindle used a black charging cord. I had been using the wrong cord to charge my phone! Somehow, like some car door keys will fit into different car door locks, the USB connection from the Kindle fit into the USB slot on my phone but, again, like those same door lock keys will not start the ignition in the wrong car, the Kindle cord would not charge my phone.
My fingers shook like the torn remnants of a flag fluttering in the breeze but I was able to attach the correct cord to my phone and plug it in. Oh, joy! O blessed wonder of wonders! It began charging! I could continue to live in the cell phone past with good ol’ Flip. That brave new world of smart phonery would have to wait a while longer before it could sink its gnarly talons into me.
Don’t you love a happy ending?
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My wife is a teacher. For the purposes of this post, let’s call her Ms. Fantastique.
Occasionally, my wife Fantastique and I talk. More than once over the years, Rahm Emanuel’s name has come up. Well, probably more like a thousand times.
In case you’re unaware, our mayor doesn’t like teachers very much. Among teachers, the feeling is mutual. So, usually conversations about the mayor with Fantastique include colorful descriptors like, “Did you hear that fucker Rahm did this?” or “Were you aware that douche bag Emanuel did that?”
One day, we were discussing an elementary school principal who’d been voted to head an association of Chicago principals. This was after he’d been fired by Rahm’s cronies at CPS for the heinous crime of having a conscience while running a public school. His election seemed a sign of solidarity among professionals who were sick of being kicked around by the mayor.
“Mare Emanuel really fucked up this time,” Fantastique said.
Mare Emanuel? I figured my ears were playing tricks on me.
But then she said it again.
“I hope this all comes back to bite Mare Emanuel in the ass!”
“Are you saying Mare Emanuel?” I asked.
After complaining about Mayor Emanuel a thousand times, maybe Fantastique was experiencing verbal fatigue. Or maybe, somewhere in her subconscious, she thought our mayor wasn’t worth the effort of the extra syllable.
But mare is a good title for Emanuel, we decided.
A mare is a female horse. A word much more common in the American parlance when we were a nation of tillers and wagon drivers.
What history tells us about mares is that they get old and grey and then they ain’t what they used to be.
Voters elected Emanuel in 2011 and 2015. But with horrible approval ratings lately, I think our mare is about as popular as a plague of locusts among nineteenth-century farmers.
In the twenty-first century, the Mare Rahm moniker invites all sorts of horse jokes.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
Mare Emanuel walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “Why the long school day?”
Or how about this one?
Chicago: “Mare Emanuel, can we get an elected school board?”
Mare Emanuel: “Nay!”
Mare Emanuel has come up in conversation a few times since his inception.
For example, I saw a cop on horseback downtown and I asked him, feeling pretty clever, “Is her name Mare Emanuel?”
“No. His name is Mr. Ed,” the officer paused, “Vrdolyak.”
“Mr. Ed Vrdolyak? No shit?”
“No shit,” the cop said.
“There’s Mr. Ed J. Kelly over there,” he said, pointing at another horse with a cop propped up on it.
Then he added, “Mare Emanuel is at the stable.”
“No shit?” I asked again.
“No shit,” he said again.
“Are all your horses named after Chicago politicians?” I wondered aloud.
“Pretty much,” he offered, “except Stud Terkel.”
“Damn right it is,” the cop said.
Then he said, “Hey, stop me if you’ve heard this one. Mare Emanuel walks into a bar…”
Editor’s Note: Chris’ last post for The Third City was Is This Heaven?
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I’ve been working at the daycare center for over a month, and the day-in-day out baby talk has become comforting….
Which is terrifying because it means I’m beginning to enjoy being around companions who literally only react to me in one of three ways: smiling, crying, or staring blankly.
What could this mean for me?
The center just had its annual “Pizza on the Playground.” If anyone asks, it was mandatory for me to go. I’d lose my job if I didn’t run one of the carnival booths. I’ll never admit my attendance was voluntary. Or even that I was mildly excited to be in charge of the “spin the wheel” game.
So, the festivities start right at 5:45. Some parents not even bothering to go home after picking up their kids, just lingering as table cloths get thrown over lunch tables….
My co-worker asks if I want to go home to change my shirt.
“Why do I need to change shirts?” I ask.
“Because you’re covered in slobber….”
Oops — very true. I’m still wearing what I put on at eight in the morning — one of my favorite T-shirts from my little sister’s collection….
I’m also wearing the same jeans and sweatshirt I’d been sporting for the past three days….
I didn’t think anything of it until I realize most employees have either brought a change of clothes or gone home to change and – gasp!- put on makeup.
The good times get rolling. I play catch with three boys. The game consists of me trying to rip the ball out of one of their hands as the others smack — and sometimes punch — my butt….
I decide to move on to the food….
After two slices of pizza, an egg roll, a pot sticker, a s’mores bar, and about three chocolate chip cookies, it’s time for me to take my post at the carnival.
Spin the wheel is a hit. Probably because it’s the easiest way to win one of the eight prizes I can dish out. If a kid plays long enough, I just give them whichever prize they’re after….
Fruit roll-ups are huge. Less huge are the mini-Frisbees imprinted with different Disney characters.
Some kids were pumped when they received a flying disc with Mickey Mouse or Cinderella on it. Other kids? Not so pumped….
I hand one girl a Frisbee with Buzz Lightyear on it, as I shout excitedly, “Buzz Lightyear!”
She grabs it from me and growls, “I hate Buzz Lightyear.”
I feel a little better when I learn that same girl had actually returned her prize at another booth, saying she thought she’d outgrown it.
See, it’s nothing personal….
But everyone loves Mickey….
Another massively entertaining feature’s the face-painting booth. Kids could either have their faces painted by one of the adults manning the booth, or opt out and paint their face themselves. Classic.
One girl walks up to my game after a visit with the face paint. Her face is just covered with different colors so all that’s left intact were her eyes. I ask her what she was and she looks up at me blankly. I repeat the question and she gives me a final look of, “Do you really not know?” spins the wheel and walks away.
This same girl had knocked my entire plate of food on the floor during lunch….
Not that I hold a grudge….
The carnival ends with nightfall. I tell some of the older kids to come to my booth, and I throw all the leftover crayons, tootsie rolls, cookies, stickers, etc. into their bags.
Then I grab another slice of now-cold pizza — for no good reason. After eating a ton of tootsie roll prizes, I’m not hungry.
This is my life…
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I knew of Cassius Clay before the Sonny Liston fight where he became known to the world that he shook up. My father was a fervent viewer of Friday Night Fights on TV. There was a Wednesday Night at the Fights too.
The event was sponsored by Gillette Razor Blades. They had a catchy jingle that went “Look Sharp/Feel Sharp/Be Sharp” with the catch phrase “How are you fixed for blades?” There was a cartoon parrot that danced along with the tune. The animation appeared as white lines with a clear background over the boxing ring and crowd behind it.
I would be in the living room where the television was so I watched the boxing shows or, at least, paid some attention to them looking up from my drawing or reading now and then, especially if there was an interestingly named fighter appearing. Names like Dick Tiger, Carmen Basilio, Sugar Ray Robinson, Emile Griffith would get my attention as well as one night when this skinny guy named Cassius Clay was introduced.
I was always a sucker for alliteration.
I believe I saw him on at least two, maybe three occasions. I don’t remember much about his fights that I watched on our small black and white television with grainy reception except that he was much more hyper than the other boxers I had seen and his matches didn’t last long. He’d knock out his opponents in the early rounds.
When he was still Cassius Clay, he met Mr. X…
The next I had heard of him was the buildup to his championship bout with Sonny Liston in 1964. I was a freshman in high school and I read about it in a magazine article that had been passed around in Biology class. Everyone was sure that Liston would murderlize that loud-mouthed skinny punk who was nicknamed ‘The Louisville Lip’.
I always had a tendency to go against popular opinion but even I wasn’t so sure. Liston was a beast. I was surprised as everyone else when Clay pulled the upset. Not everyone was happy about it but I was. Braggadocio and showmanship, hot-dogging, is something that has always and still doesn’t appeal to me but there was something about this guy. I felt there was kind of a sly sense of humor behind it all.
Of course, then there was the conversion to Islam and the name change to Muhammad Ali and like Bob Dylan, one had to keep up with all the changes this guy was pulling on us. He was interesting and entertaining and a little bit dangerous as all get out. And, damn, what a great boxer.
I remember feeling such trepidation that he had wandered off a little too far on a limb with his poetic predictions of when he would knock out his opponent. Listening to the blow by blow accounts of the bouts on my little transistor radio had me chewing my fingernails down to the quick wondering if he was going to do it…and he always would!
His outspokenness on civil rights and black pride and then his refusal to be drafted did not go down well with the citizenry at large and particularly with the citizenry where I grew up, the all-white town of Cicero, a town that Martin Luther King said was more racist than any town he’d been to in the south.
I was not alone in Cicero with my admiration for Ali but those of us who were fans were most certainly in the minority. Of course, how Ali handled himself with all the blockades the government put up against him and all the brickbats thrown at him by the public made one admire him even more. He became even bigger than he was as a boxer.
He was a great athlete, a great humanitarian, a great wit—I recently watched an old Dick Cavett Show with Ali as a guest and my face was filled with tears of laughter. No one can ever dare lay claim to the title “The Greatest”. It stops and starts with Ali.
There are a few folks in the public eye that I admire but there was only one whose hand I would have liked to shake and that would be Muhammad Ali. I always hoped that I might have the chance to do just that but that hope has sprung eternally away. However, I consider myself lucky to have witnessed his life play out in real time.
I’m damn lucky.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post was Finding Nemo…
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I had lunch with my friend Carl who had recently returned from a trip to Italy.
He told me a little story that I found to be of interest so I have stolen it but only with the innocent intention of passing it on to you, dear reader. I shall try to do it justice.
He and his wife were staying at a hotel somewhere in Sicily. They were going to go out for dinner so he asked the concierge if he’d recommend a place. The concierge told them of a small, intimate family-owned ristorante with home cooking.
“Perfect!” said Carl.
The concierge gave them directions and added ‘When you go there, ask for Nemo.”
“In my mind, I immediately went to a dark place”, confided Carl, “I thought, yeah, ask for Nemo so he can charge us more.”
Hey, you grow up and live in Chicago, you always expect an ulterior motive.
They found the place and sitting in front was an old man, looking to be in his 80s. He had a grizzled, unshaven face but was wearing a finely tailored suit that fit him perfectly. He waved Carl and Nancy in.
The waiter seated them and they ordered some appetizers while they scoured the menu. As they sat, Carl noticed that the interior was filled with photos of attractive women, mostly movie actresses from the 1960s and 70s. They were all signed with hugs and kisses to Nemo.
When the waiter returned for their orders, Carl mentioned that he was told to ask for Nemo.
“Very good” replied the waiter. He left and returned with the old man who was sitting in front. He was Nemo.
The great Liz Taylor…
Carl shook hands with him and gesturing to all the photos of beautiful starlets adorning the walls, said. “Nemo, you are a man among men.”
Nemo brusquely brushed them away and said “Ah, they are nothing!”
He leaned in toward Carl and said in a conspiratorial tone, “When you are finished eating, you come with me. Then I will show you something.”
He intimated that Carl alone should accompany him.
The two tourists finished their meal, even having tiramisu forced upon them for dessert despite being completely sated from dinner.
“Mangi! Mangi!”—the Italian battle cry.
Nemo came along and motioned for Carl to follow him. They went to the back of the restaurant where they proceeded through a curtained doorway that led to a long dark hallway. At the end of the hallway was a large oak door. Nemo opened it and the two of them stepped inside.
They stepped into a room that was a shrine.
The walls were filled with photos of only one person and that one person was not, as one might suspect, an Italian screen goddess like Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida or Claudia Cardinale. The single photographed entity covering Nemo’s walls was the American screen actress Elizabeth Taylor.
The mise en scene was staggering. Dozens upon dozens of framed glossies of the violet-eyed movie icon peered down, longingly, lasciviously, chastely. They were all autographed and signed to Nemo. There were photos of Ms. Taylor from various movie roles but, especially, Cleopatra. Much of that movie was filmed in Italy. Evidently, she and Nemo met during the filming of that epic and became friends. There was even a photo of the two of them kissing.
The pièce de résistance, though, was a vetrina in the center of the room. Displayed in it was a pair of sandals that once adorned the delicate feet of La Liz when she was masquerading as Cleopatra.
Nemo—a man among men for whom there was one woman among women.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Taxi Driver…
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